Home Entertainment This weekend’s 15th Annual Line Breaks Hip Hop Theater Festival looks to...

This weekend’s 15th Annual Line Breaks Hip Hop Theater Festival looks to provide “the true breadth of the human experience”

“This is a place to be brave, to share oneself, and to create something new that will challenge the audience as much as it challenges the performers and the artists involved. I’m really excited for the students for our alumni, for the Madison community that has really paved the way for the multicultural arts and for First Wave to exist here,” says Sofia Snow, director of First Wave and the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives.

The 15th annual Line Breaks Hip Hop Festival, presented by the UW Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives, will be an in-person event, after going virtual for two years during the pandemic, and will celebrate another great year of hip hop in the midwest Friday-Saturday, April 1st-2nd, at the Overture Center. The performances will showcase the work of First Wave students past and present through musical acts, poetry, dance, lectures, panels, and interactive events. 

Sofia Snow, director of First Wave and the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives
(Photo supplied)

“What folks will experience tonight and this weekend is really the true breadth of the human experience. A lot of the stories that we’ll hear this weekend, I think often get pushed to the side. Often we are told that they don’t deserve a platform for whatever reason,” Snow tells Madison365. “And to be able to center those identities, those truths those heritages and ancestry, I think is a really special thing.”

Snow, a member of the 2007 inaugural cohort of UW–Madison’s groundbreaking First Wave hip-hop scholarship program, became director in 2019.

“Line Breaks is an interdisciplinary Hip Hop theatre festival that takes place every spring. We have current First Wave scholars perform and we invite the finalists of our incoming cohort to come to take workshops and check out the panels and we invite internationally acclaimed world-renowned professional artists to come and also teach workshops and participate on panels,” Snow says.

“The point of Line Breaks is to celebrate the culture of hip hop, to celebrate the young people in our programming and in our network and to create a platform for the stories and voices of some of the most marginalized communities in our country,” she adds.

The UW-Madison Arts Crawl has been offering its creative classes through the university arts department and co-curricular arts units. Highlighting a collection of arts events held over the course of a few days, visitors have been able to benefit from workshops and demonstrations – such as textile design, collection development, and glass blowing – as well as access to lectures and arts performances involving ukulele orchestras, discussions on activism through art, and a contemporary jazz ensemble performances. The event will resolve with a performance at the Line Breaks Festival. 

Madison’s own DJ Pain 1 – who has worked with hip hop artists like Schoolboy Q, Ludacris, and 50 Cent – will be spinning during the Line Breaks Opening Reception, held at the Overture Center from 5-7 p.m. The event will feature refreshments, some catering, and a bar for patrons to enjoy themselves while walking through an exhibition showcasing UW’s First Wave visual and design artists’ work. 

Jamie Dawson from the 9th Cohort of FW, who will be in town with many other FWers as a part of our alumni events.

From 5:30-6:30 p.m., WAA’s Wisconsin Idea Spotlight Panel will be hosted in the space, where speakers such as First Wave Alumni Danez Smith (poetry), and Erika Dickerson-Despenza (poet-playwright) will be featured. Register for the event here.

In Overture Center’s Playhouse theater, First Wave’s 14th Cohort Ensemble will perform as a part of Line Break’s Hip Hop theater official festival showcase. First Wave’s 12th Cohort will showcase a performance by Jackson Neal, a First Wave alum and Houston youth poet laureate, who will present their performance, Glitch, at the event. Neal’s bio reads: “Through language, through movement, through the insatiable need to create, Neal is carving a path between this world and the worlds we feel but do not see. He creates for queer people, for those who have too much light inside them for this dim planet. Neal’s art is made always with the belief that we cannot live a better life if we do not first imagine it.”

The First Wave Touring Ensemble will also perform at Line Breaks. Azura Mizan Tyabji, from the 13th cohort of First Wave, comes from a poetry and spoken-word background and will be performing with the First Wave Touring Ensemble.

“We’ll be performing is a series of poems — like vignettes into our personal history, our families, our ancestors, our friends, and all these relationships that inform who we are,” Mizan Tyabji tells Madison365. “I think what I like about this performance — and First Wave, in general — is how it helps me articulate my own story and my own narrative. Because all we have is our own stories of how we create our identities and our personal histories and this performance is a chance to put that on stage and celebrate it and see how our stories weave together organically.”

Danez Smith
(Photo supplied)

The event will later conclude with a debut live performance of summer, somewhere, by Danez Smith. Register for these events here

Smith is also an alum of the first cohort of First Wave.

“We are staging one of my long poems called ‘summer, somewhere,’ which is a work that imagines the afterlife that is to Black men who have been killed by police or other avatars like white violence,” Smith tells Madison365. “It’s been a truly lovely process for me to come back and be part of this experience of this place — this home — where I learned. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without First Wave and so it feels like a full-circle moment to bring something that was built on the foundations that I learned in this community back to the space to bring it into a new life on stage where there’s all these wonderful artists.”

Deshawn McKinney (on the megaphone) of the 7th Cohort will also be in Danez’s piece.

The second day will begin with a “Badger Meet Up” at 2 p.m, done in Line Breaks style: a festive brunch, where Badger alumni from 2007-2017 who are interested in multicultural arts and initiatives are invited to participate in an afternoon of refreshment, and performances in honor of the Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives 15th anniversary. 

The event will end at 4 p.m, and a two-hour break will commence before the start of the second Line Breaks showcase, also held in the Playhouse theater. First Wave’s 14th ensemble will perform, as well as Dawry Ruiz, Milwaukee-based musical-trio Klassik, B-Free, and Quinten Farr, and the JVN Project’s fashion show. JVN Project is an arts nonprofit honoring First Wave member John Vietnam Nguyễn, a Chicago native and UW-Madison sophomore who died at age 19. Register for the event here.

“This is a really big celebration, being the 15th annual Line Breaks and coming out of a pandemic and finding a way to safely gather again,” Snow says. “We wanted to create almost like a multicultural arts homecoming for our community, for UW. And so there’s a ton of alumni support, including Danez [Smith], who are just giving so much of themselves back to the community.

“It truly is beautiful to see what our students have been working on all year long … to see the ways they come into the program and the ways that they stretched themselves, partially because of our curriculum and working with the faculty available on campus, but also because of the exploration they’re doing as individuals, as college students and their own artistry,” she adds. “To see them come in at one stage of their lives and then really just work so hard to share their stories at this next level. I’m just so incredibly proud of what our students have accomplished.”